Here’s a disturbing story from National Geographic about a planned road that would slice through Florida panther habitat.
As writer Douglas Main explains, the state of Florida recently authorized the addition of three new toll roads. While all of these roads could negatively affect a vital wildlife corridor, one of them would directly traverse the habitat of Florida’s iconic panthers.
Florida panthers are actually pumas (Puma concolor) that have managed to survive after the rest of their species was driven out of the Eastern United States. It hasn’t been easy, though. Main writes that there were only around 20 Florida panthers left in 1967, when the cats were listed as an endangered species.
Thanks to the Endangered Species Act – the extraordinary piece of legislation that was just gutted by the Trump administration – Florida panther numbers have risen. There are now about 200 panthers inhabiting Southwest Florida, but the cats need to expand their range northwards if they’re going to recover fully.
Roads are one of the main obstacles to Florida panther range expansion. Being struck by vehicles is the biggest source of mortality for the cats, and putting a highway directly in their habitat would only make this problem worse.
Fortunately, it might be possible to mitigate panther-vehicle collisions by constructing underpasses that would allow wildlife to safely cross the toll road. These underpasses, however, would do little to combat suburban sprawl.
Florida’s planned roads would generate even more habitat degradation by facilitating additional development along their lengths. Not only would this be bad for panthers, but it’d also threatened the open ranchlands that are being squeezed ever tighter by Florida’s urban and suburban growth. Ranchlands provide much better habitat than shopping centers, so their loss is detrimental for both wildlife and Florida’s rural way of life.
As always, the original article contains much more information. Be sure to read it!